About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Bracken

A bit late with this one, but again, I did eat the food on Friday.

When I first heard that bracken is edible, I also learnt two things: It's carcinogenic and it's considered a delicacy in Japan. Hmm, if both those facts are true, how come the Japanese aren't dropping like flies? I did some research, the results of which I completely failed to keep (and sorry, but I don't have time right now to do it again) and found that both of these facts are indeed true. In some oriental cultures (not just Japan), large quantities are eaten around this time of year. Since Japan is the kind of place where large-scale surveys may be conducted and analysed to address questions such as links between diet and cancer risk (in common with the UK, America, and much of Europe), it has been established that eating bracken is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

If it takes that kind of scientific study to establish the risk, it can't be such a great risk that one is liable to drop dead from eating a few fronds. There are other things in my diet that increase the risk of cancer, notably red meat and alcohol, but I consider the risk to be small enough that I won't avoid these things entirely. I tried to find some estimate of how great the cancer risk is from eating bracken, relative to foods I'm more familiar with, but couldn't find any studies that put numbers on it. I've come to the conclusion that it's in the same ballpark, and not a great enough risk to put me off trying this oriental delicacy.

Bracken grows all over the place round here, and I'd really rather it didn't grow in the main part of my garden. If it turns out to be worth eating, that would be some consolation for the fact I can't get rid of it. The first fronds are starting to unfurl now.

Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).
These young, half-unfurled fronds are known as fiddleheads.

I picked all of these and steamed them for ten minutes, then served with butter as a side vegetable. Wow! I'm with the Japanese on this one. Of many wild plants that get compared with asparagus, this is the first I've tried that truly bears comparison. The flavour isn't the same, but I'd say it's as good and from me, that's saying a lot. As for the cancer risk, between this, the roast beef and red wine I had with it, I'm not sure what's going to kill me first.

Edit: After eating more bracken, I've learnt that the taste is quite variable. I guess there's some tasty compound that occurs in variable amounts. Sometimes there's so little that the fronds don't taste of anything very much and sometimes there's so much that the flavour is unpleasantly strong, and somewhat bitter. It's when there's just the right amount that the flavour is something special.

Edit again: (This one does seem to be causing me some trouble). I'd noticed that there are two types of fern in my garden, but for some reason thought that they were two varieties of bracken. Chatting to my neighbour Gill recently, she said that she thought none of the ferns in her garden were actually bracken. Since we have very similar wild plants, this alarmed me somewhat so I asked her to show them to me and explain.

Looking at the hillside she said, Those ones on your side of the fence are definitely bracken; they have stalks. These ones on our side are some other fern; the leaves unroll right from the base. Ah. I've been eating both kinds. Oh well, I still seem to be alive with no obvious ill effects. From now on I'll stick to the kind with stalks, and I've replaced the photo in this post so that it actually does show bracken, not some other kind of fern. I think the actual bracken is more reliably nice to eat, too.

Also harvesting this week:
Dandelions flowers for wine
Goose grass
Ground Elder
Wild garlic

Also drinking this week:
Heather ale
Blackcurrant wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.


  1. Wow... I don't really know what bracken is, but if it's as good as asparagus I think I might be willing to take the risk! :-)

    1. See my edit, above. I think I was just lucky with my first try at eating bracken, it isn't so good every time.

  2. I was just about to say that fiddleheads are popular in the States too, and then I saw ECL's comment... I'm sure they are in some areas though.

    I'd assumed fiddleheads were a particular variety of fern. We don't have much bracken around here, but I'll have to try it if we're ever away at the right time of year.

    My only other contribution to this subject is that the way the fronds unfurl is called Circinate vernation. It's my mum's 'party piece' useless fact and I feel duty bound to pass it on!

    I made nettle cordial yesterday which is absolutely delicious :-)

    1. Thank you for Circinate vernation. I will completely fail to remember that fact and your mum can keep her 'party piece'!

      Nettle cordial - that sounds interesting. Do you put anything else in, apart from sugar?


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